The symbolical description of our Lord's person in this passage has often been considered, but we shall not fail to find edification in it again.
It is of actual importance, for by faith we have to do with a living Christ, supreme in power and wisdom; with Him, that is, who became dead, and is living to the ages of the ages. He beholds everything that is passing in Christendom, and nothing that takes place can ever escape His eye. This is a precious resource for us, for the Lord would have us to place all confidence in Himself - "Fear not, I am the first and the last."
Surely divine wisdom and glory are seen here in the Son of man. The Ancient of days of Daniel 7 is identified in this passage with the Man who became dead and is alive for ever; the hair like white wool, and supreme authority vested in Him, both declare His majesty and right to judge.
He is clothed with a garment reaching to the feet, and the golden girdle round the breast is as a zone to confine the affections. The love of Christ is there, as we well know by His messages to the churches, but He is here presented as Judge, and the golden belt of divine righteousness stands out in relief upon the long robe. Looking at the responsible body of Christendom, it is clear that it is not the time for the full and free exercise of the affections (though the Lord speaks of His love to some), but divine justice circumscribes the region of the heart, for there is much to be judged.
What a consolation to know this, and to confide in Him who judges aright. Nothing is more terrible than the history of the seven churches in a certain aspect, because the very worst forms of evil have come in there where the name of Christ is professed. How shocking the iniquities, both of Christianized Constantinople and Rome, to say nothing of other places. Nor is there less injustice at the present time than in earlier phases of history, though it be under the cloak of liberality in religious views.
The golden girdle shines brightly to the eye of faith, and the symbol is received by those who wait on the Lord and love His appearing, as one of happiest augury. Justice is found in the Son of man supreme.
His eyes as a flame of fire denote acute perception, unsparing of evil. How many hidden actions, ecclesiastical plots, concealed sin, simony, cruelty, have those eyes seen in church history? And we must not forget that the penetrating glance of Christ has always seen through that which is outward, down to the very motives and counsels of the hearts, and state of the consciences of all who come under the scope of His far-seeing view. Through the thick walls of inquisition prisons, through the robes of cardinals, through many specious pretexts, the eyes, like a flame of fire, have seen all, and are seeing all at this present moment, detecting the inmost thoughts of our souls.
The feet, like fine brass as burning in the furnace, denote judgment. There is stability as well as the heat of the fire; and again we can by faith understand a symbol which without it would be incomprehensible. (To understand divine symbols we must be taught of God. When artists, men of genius, try to depict them they fall into lamentable mistakes.) The glowing brass of the feet corresponds to the golden zone above. Divine justice in the girdle, and execution in divine wrath upon earth in the fine brass. One may well tremble for those countries which have received so many privileges, and made such a bad use of them.
The voice was as the sound of many waters. When He speaks all must listen and obey, as we find further on in the Apocalypse. He is to be heard above all the noise and Babel of voices that rise from the field about to be judged. What a sight would be a bird's-eye view of Christendom, from Mexico and South America to solemn northern hypocrisy! But only One can see it, and see through it as we remarked, and He alone can make His voice heard - all shall obey Him.
The seven stars are explained by the divine voice itself, the symbolic angels of the assemblies.
The two-edged sword, which goes forth from His mouth, is clearly the word employed in judgment. As His glance detects, so His word reaches and deals unsparingly with evil, and those who allow it. I suppose that "making war against them with the sword of my mouth" is to be understood as the word applied in judgment.
Supreme authority is seen in the sun shining "in his strength." It is a well-known symbol, as when our Lord, upon the mountain of transfiguration, was seen for a moment in the sovereign place in the kingdom. His will is paramount, as when a bright eastern sun reigns over the whole landscape; everything feels its power, and his light and heat go to the very border of the circle of his rays.
We are not surprised that John fell at His feet as dead, for who would not be overcome in beholding the judicial majesty of Christ, and perceiving at the same time, to some extent, the state of Christendom?
The Lord raises him, and reassures him, and together with the encouraging word, "Fear not," says that He is the First and the Last, and the Living One. We need to enter into the force of these expressions - there is the characteristic glory of Him who is here presented as Son of man, but how truly a Divine Person at the same time.
Notice too the peculiar expression, "I became dead."* And now as living to the eternal ages the risen Jesus speaks of the keys of Hades and of death. They belong to Him. The whole invisible world is entirely in His power, in His keeping, and we have here a truth which reassures our souls.
To Him, the Resurrection and the Life, the keys of death too are committed, and we may place unmeasured confidence in Him who tasted death for everything, and to whom all power is given.
May we take fresh courage as we look towards Him who can and will sustain the faith of all those who seek to serve Him amidst the field over which judgment is impending. May He be in full view to each one who has ears to hear. E. L. Bevir.
*The note in the New Translation is a valuable one.